Actors Who Have Bands: An Objective Analysis

You know the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side? That’s true, even for super-famous movie stars. No matter what you have, you’ll always be yearning for something else. And in the case of super-famous movie stars, a surprising number of them gravitate toward a side-career in music. As a sociological experiment, I have decided to objectively listen to several actors’ bands and give an unbiased opinion as to how it actually sounds. A final note before we begin: with apologies to Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis, I’ve decided to focus on actors with bands, rather than solo music ventures.

Jared Leto – Thirty Seconds To Mars

Like Jared Leto’s take on the Joker in Suicide Squad, Thirty Seconds To Mars is pompous, garish, and infuriatingly un-self-aware. It’s sound and fury signifying nothing; worse, it’s sound and fury that thinks it’s signifying something dark, twisted, and, like, so important. From its vocals that alternate between breathy whispers and unrestrained screams, to its video that apes imagery from The Shining with no added insight, if this is what it’s like to head to Mars in thirty seconds, I’m good on Earth, thanks.

Juliette Lewis – Juliette And The Licks

I’m pleasantly surprised by this song! It almost feels like an unreleased Jack White cut, with a powerfully simple chord progression anchored by gritty guitars. Plus, I dig the spoken-word interlude in the bridge, which threw me for a nice loop. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m surprised; Lewis is an actress I have noted for her taste, appearing in movies from stylish auteurs like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and Robert Rodriguez. If you need to get pumped before a big job interview, first date, or pop culture list writing deadline (just me?), consider cranking some Juliette And The Licks.

Keanu Reeves – Dogstar

At his best, Keanu Reeves is a figure of otherworldly zen onscreen, existing at a plane unbeknownst to us mere mortals. At his worst, he’s uncharismatic, wooden, and feels like he’s trudging through his lines. Regrettably, I have to put Dogstar, the band he played bass for, in the latter category. If I had to categorize the music’s genre, I’d call it “generic sludgecore.” It seems to fit with bands like Puddle Of Mudd and even Nickelback, but at least those bands could write sticky hooks every once in awhile. The lead singer puts some Eddie Vedder full-throatedness into it, and the guitars crunch and chug away, but I’m left feeling empty.

Zooey Deschanel – She & Him

While Zooey Deschanel’s performance in New Girl often borders on manic and cartoonish, her band She & Him (the “him” being maestro guitarist and folk star M. Ward) is refreshingly chill and contained. It is — and I swear I mean this as a compliment — inoffensive coffee shop music. You put these tunes on when you need to get some work done, but every so often want to perk up and go, “Ah, that’s nice.” Plus, they made one of the strongest contemporary Christmas albums in recent years.

Russell Crowe – 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts

Given Russell Crowe’s often fiery temperament, I’m surprised at how soft and sensitive this 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts track is, featuring both guitar and lead vocals from Crowe. It has more in common with soft-rock mainstays like the Carpenters and the Eagles than the rollicking, bluesy vibes I would’ve expected from Crowe. I mean, this song features a dang french horn solo, for goodness’ sake! But is it any good? For me, it’s the kind of song that I would say to my friends, “Ah, jeez, what is this cheesy crap?” before finding it on YouTube, favoriting it, and listening to it over and over again. I dig the chord progressions and the vocal melodies, and think Crowe’s soft-and-low vocals are actually quite evocative.

Michael Cera – Mister Heavenly

This indie supergroup features critically acclaimed musicians from bands like Islands, Man Man, and Modest Mouse… and also Michael Cera?! Yes, as it turns out, Cera is quite the bass player, providing a groovy foundation for the group’s 1950s doo-wop influenced tunes. I earnestly love this band, particularly the way their two lead singers’ vocal styles counter each other. If Cera ever slows down from acting and plays more bass for catchy indie songs like these, I will not blame him.

Jada Pinkett Smith – Wicked Wisdom

Just when you think the Smith family couldn’t get any weirder, you find out that Jada Pinkett fronts a nu-metal band called Wicked Wisdom that has, among other things, played with Britney Spears and had a slot Ozzfest. The weirdness doesn’t stop there, however; the music combines heavy, intense guitars and double-bass drum work with jarringly clean and expressive vocals from Pinkett Smith in a mashup that just doesn’t work. I either want Pinkett Smith’s vocals to be dirtier, or the music to be cleaner. Something so they meet better in the middle. As it is, it remains a curiosity that doesn’t work, rather than a genuinely good metal outfit.

Jack Black – Tenacious D

I own every D album, their film The Pick Of Destiny, have watched both Collected Masterworks DVDs, and every episode of their short-lived HBO series. Their music is equal parts hilarious and lovingly crafted. They just might be the perfect expression of an actor’s persona through music. They are, in other words, a couple of Wonder Boys.

Which actor’s band did you dig the most? Which ones left you flat? Who did we miss? Give me a shout on Twitter, where in addition to stupid 140-character jokes, you will also have to deal with me plugging my musical duo. #Sorrynotsorry.

Greg Smith
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